A Guide to Understanding How Different Cultures View Time | ExpatWoman.com

A Guide to Understanding How Different Cultures View Time

Let's take a closer look at how different cultures understand time.

Posted on

22 August 2018

Last updated on 24 September 2018
A Guide to Understanding How Different Cultures View Time

Time is a universal concept but different cultures have different ways of interpreting time. The behaviour of people to time varies from one culture to another across the world, some countries focus on the past and traditions, while some primarily concentrate on what the future holds which therefore dictates their interpretation of time.

If you are an expat living in Dubai and you are planning to move to a different city or country it's important to have a clear understanding of your destination country's interpretation of time which can help in overcoming cultural shocks.

Santa Fe Relocation in Dubai gives us information on how different cultures understand time, from time orientation to how countries are divided into different chronemics depending on whether they are future-orientated, present-orientated or past-orientated.

Orientation to time

One of the most common classification of the concept of the time is time orientation. This shows a cultural preference towards the past, present and future which dictates how time is valued in that particular country. While America is considered to be a future-orientated country due to extensive planning as well as having a young history, France is said to have a more present-oriented culture. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has a past-orientated culture as a result of the country sticking to its traditional values.

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Pre-Industrial societies

While first-world countries are typically dominated by the concept of time, there are a number of cultures around the world which have little-to-no time orientation. The Pirahã tribe found in the Amazon rainforest is just one example of this. This tribe is considered to have ‘pre-industrial culture’ and has incredibly limited language skills which is heavily based on whistling and humming. With no numbers, letters and colours, the Pirahã tribe has no real concept of time. As a result, the language spoken by the Pirahã tribe has no past tense. Instead, everything exists in the present.

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The meaning of chronemics

The use of time and how it is perceived by different cultures is called ‘chronemics’. Different cultures may fit into different parts of the study and are categorised as monochronic, polychronic or variably monochromic.

  • Monochronic In a monochromic culture, time can be spent, saved or wasted and lateness or any form of interruption will not be tolerated.
  • Polychronic In a polychromic culture, a number of tasks can be done at once and people are not expected to do one thing at a time. Mexico, Pakistan, India and the Philippines are all considered to have a polychronic culture.
  • Variably monochromic is a group of ‘in-between’ countries that cannot be classed as monochronic or polychronic.

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